All good things...
Grand Rapids Wins the Series 4-2
Grand Rapids Wins the Calder Cup
Cedrick Desjardins allowed 3 goals on 23 shots in a game that encapsulated the Finals for Desjardins. Brilliant at times, he allowed a goal through him on the eventual game winner by Evans that he surely wishes he had back. It will be interesting to see how Julien BriseBois retools between the pipes for next season, because you can make the argument the difference between Desjardins and Mrazek was, in large part, the difference between champion and runner-up.
SYR Panik, (9) (Taormina, Palat), 17:15
GR Callahan, (6) (Ferraro, Grant), 2:23
GR Tatar, (15) (Nyquist, Ferraro), 12:41 (PP)
SYR Sustr, (2) (Namestnikov, Devos), 5:14
GR Evans, (2) (Callahan, Sheahan), 9:54
GR Tatar, (16) (Andersson, Nyquist), 19:11 (EN/PP)
GR Andersson, (3) (Glendening), 19:54 (EN)
I think Lightning fans everywhere, even with the bitterness of this defeat, need to start by saying, "thank you" to this group of players. The team we've referred to as "SyraNo" on this site, which won a championship in Norfolk last year and almost did again this year with Syracuse has been one of the best groups of players ever to take the ice together in the AHL. A lot of these guys, like Radko Gudas who returned tonight from injury, are ticketed for the NHL next year. Others, some of the really veteran guys, may move on in the offseason. So, this group of guys will never be together again, but we should tip our hat to them for two years of sustained brilliance the likes of which we're unlikely to see again anytime soon.
As for the young prospects who will likely return to Syracuse next season, I found myself highly impressed with Vladislav Namestnikov and Andrej Sustr, both of whom got stronger as the playoffs wore on. Namestnikov is a legit threat to be an AHL All-Star next season, if not more, with his wizardry with the puck and Sustr is something rare and interesting in pro hockey. You have to put aside the fact Andrej is 6'8", because he refuses to play to type. He's not a bone crunching stay-at-homer, and there's a lot of times he looks like a forward with his ability to read the play offensively and jump into the action. His feed to Tyler Johnson in the slot in the Third Period tonight was an incredible bit of vision that I think stunned TJ a bit, and darned near got Syracuse the key goal they needed in the final frame. That's after he tied the game once in the final period with an absolute bullet from the point. These two guys will be fun to watch develop next season.
Ondrej Palat finishes the playoffs as the AHL leader in postseason scoring. Well done, Mr. Palat.
Box score from TheAHL.com.
Syracuse shows some pride.
Grand Rapids Leads the Series 3-1
Cedrick Desjardins allowed 2 goals on 28 shots for the victory.
GR Andersson, (2) (Evans, Billins), 3:37
SYR Connolly, (5) , 5:04
GR Mursak, (11) (Hoggan, Glendening), 11:04
SYR Palat, (6) (Panik), 14:01
SYR Panik, (7) (Barberio, Cote), 16:52
Certainly Syracuse is still in horrible shape in the series down 3-1 and the odds are still long as long can be, but by winning tonight Syracuse places some pressure on Grand Rapids to finish up this series at home in Game Five before the scene shifts back to Syracuse. Because of that, you can expect the Griffins' best shot tomorrow, but if Syracuse can withstand that and pull out a win they'll actually hold home ice advantage with a chance to make a minor miracle happen. I'd say they owe it to themselves and to their fans back in upstate New York to make that happen.
C'mon boys. Give yourselves an opportunity to do something legendary.
Box score from TheAHL.com.
Long layoff, shaky goal, Mrazek, and the refs cost Syracuse Game One.
Grand Rapids leads the series 1-0
Cedrick Desjardins allowed 2 goals on 20 shots for the loss. He's a bit infuriating. He was pretty well excellent throughout the game making several big stops along the way, but the eventual game winner was a long slapshot that he allowed to go through him that you simply cannot surrender in a 1-0 game in the Third Period. So frustrating.
GR Callahan, (5) (Billins, Evans), 6:45
GR Sheahan, (3) (Mursak), 12:00
SYR Cote, (1) (Angelidis, Brown), 13:19
GR Nyquist, (2) (Andersson), 19:45 (EN/PP)
Ondrej Palat was the game's third star. There's little doubt he was the straw that stirred the drink on the reformed PTP line tonight with Richard Panik back in the lineup. They got a fair number of scoring chances, but Petr Mrazek is a damned good goaltender. The Crunch definitely learned that tonight.
Also helping Mrazek out was that Syracuse showed just a bit of rust from their long layoff. In the first half of the game it seemed their short to mid-range passes were just a shade off of clicking, and it really allowed Grand Rapids to keep Syracuse away from the kind of zone time domination the Crunch thrive off of. They've got to find a way to better establish their forecheck headed into Game Two.
Beyond that, it should be noted that the refs waved off a goal in the match on a power play in the Second Period that should have tied the game on a crease violation where the replay showed no real contact with Mrazek. Between that and an interference penalty that went uncalled late in the Third Period right before Panik took a call that essentially ended the contest, the refs influence on the game could hardly be underestimated. Again, frustrating, and I think the wave off of the goal definitely deflated Syracuse for the rest of the Second and on into the early Third Period.
So, now Syracuse falls behind the 8-ball with Grand Rapids stealing home ice and playing with house money in Game Two. Hopefully Syracuse will get Radko Gudas back for the contest, because the thought of being down 0-2 before heading west is beyond unappealing.
Box score from TheAHL.com.
SyraNo so good when playing with house money over the past 2 seasons.
Syracuse Leads the Series 3-1
Cedrick Desjardins allowed 2 goals on 23 shots for the victory.
WBS Harrington, (1) (Uher, Holzapfel), 13:40 (PP)
SYR Mikkelson, (2) (Taormina, Palat), 14:57
WBS Megna, (2) (Peters, Uher), 16:40
SYR Connolly, (3) (Barberio, Sexton), 18:12
SYR Johnson, (9) (Palat, Namestnikov), 1:50
SYR Wyman, (3) , 19:04 (EN)
This is why this affiliate has been so amazing in the playoffs over the past couple of seasons. They get a team down with a chance to bury them in a deep hole and they don't squander it. With Desjardins basically stealing Game Three, the easy conclusion would be the Pens would put the hammer down even more and even things up at 2-2, especially with Richard Panik out of the lineup. Syracuse doesn't throw their opposition life vests when they are in situations like this, though. They throw them anchors. Now the Crunch will get not worse than two cracks at home to close out the series with a commanding 3-1 series lead.
And, as has been noted in the previous two series, if you can close out a playoff series quickly you should do so. Playoff hockey can be a war of attrition, and the less battles you have to fight to win the war, the less you expose yourself to potential destiny-altering injuries.
Game Five is tomorrow night in Syracuse.
Box score and extended statistics from TheAHL.com.
By the skin of their teeth...
Series Tied at 1-1
Cedrick Desjardins allowed 2 goals on 18 shots for the victory. If someone can explain to me what case of amnesia struck he and his defensemen on the second Penguins goal, I'd love to hear it. They forgot they were in a playoff game and they almost set in motion events that could've cost them what should've been an easy win.
SYR Sexton, (3) (Connolly, Barberio), 18:56 (PP)
SYR Taormina, (2) (Angelidis, Sustr), 7:07
WBS Mormina, (1) (Dumoulin, Kolarik), 8:13 (PP)
SYR Korobov, (1) (Gudas, Palat), 11:40 (SH)
WBS Holzapfel, (4) (Grant), 14:02
You'll rarely see a game as one-sided as this one was for the first 50 minutes or so. Syracuse dominated territorily and on the shot board, holding the Pens to just 1 shot in the entire First Period. They played like you expect them to play with very good efforts by J.T. Brown and Vladislav Namestnikov, among others, with Dmitry Korobov blowing the game open a bit with a shorthanded goal that he whistled by Thiessen top shelf.
And then all hell broke lose. An accidential collision had Tyler Johnson limping off the ice not to be seen again, and we don't know if he'll be available for Game Three Wednesday. A bizarre play where the D and Desjardins looked like a bunch of clueless 5 year olds led to a second Pens goal, and the next thing you know the team was holding on for dear life in the final 5 minutes.
This is what the Penguins wanted. They have to turn this series into a war of attrition to have a chance. Syracuse needs to go to their barn and steal home ice back Wednesday and take control back of the series. They have the pieces to do it, even if Johnson can't go. But, man, that's as disorganized as I've ever seen a SyraNo team protecting a lead late in the last 2 years. That was terrifying.
Side note: when his playing days are over Jared Nightingale has a future in broadcasting, having heard him on a few Syracuse games now. That's not a shot on other players who have done it for the affiliate over the past couple of years, but Nightingale's got the chops for it.
Box score from TheAHL.com.